Big badd wolf, p.12
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       Big Badd Wolf, p.12

         Part #7 of Badd Brothers series by Jasinda Wilder
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  "Put that on your nose," she ordered, and then cleaned off my throat and chest.

  I held the ice to my nose and stood still as she wiped me off. "Thanks. Both of you." I turned away and headed for my room.

  Corin sighed in irritation. "Fine. Don't tell us why you're showing up shirtless and barefoot with a broken nose."

  I paused in the doorway of my room. "Sorry. I just...I don't want to talk about it."

  Corin waved at me in dismissal. "Fine. Whatever. Be all closed off. It's not like I'm your fuckin' brother or anything."

  I hesitated, but couldn't find the words to explain, or the will to trust him with the truth. I shut the door and collapsed onto my back on the bed, holding the ice pack in place.

  Alone, I replayed what had happened, and tried to make sense of it.

  She clearly had a hang-up about a physical relationship--that much had been obvious from the start, from the first kiss and how she'd reacted to it. She also, just as clearly, struggled with trust issues, and had no intention of letting anyone get close to her. But all that was easily understood from everything that had happened before today.

  Her violent reaction to whatever I'd done...that was different. That was something else.

  She'd snapped when I put my weight on her, pinning her to the bed.

  Realization slammed through me, making my blood run cold and my heart sink. There was only one rational explanation for her reaction, and now that I saw it, I regretted my angry outburst even more.

  I owed her an apology. A big one.

  I'd no sooner levered upright and swiveled to sit on the edge of the bed when I heard the front door of the apartment open.

  "Joss!" Tate's voice. "Is everything okay? Luce came home a minute ago--"

  "He's here?" Joss's voice cut in.

  "Yeah, he's in his room." Tate, more subdued now. "But Joss--"

  Seconds later my bedroom door flew open and Joss stood in the doorway, eyes sparking and spitting anger. She took two steps into my room and kicked the door shut.

  "You're an asshole," she barked.

  I stood up and tossed the ice pack onto the bed, remaining a few feet away from Joss. "I know. I owe you an apology."

  "How dare you call me a tease? How fucking dare you act like I'm messing with you on purpose!" She didn't seem like she'd heard me. "You have no fucking clue what I've been through, Lucian. No clue! So fuck you for--"

  "Joss!" I snapped, loud enough to be heard over her diatribe.

  "What?" She bit out.

  I held up both hands palms out. "I apologize for my reaction. I'm sorry, okay? I should have realized why you would freak out like that, and I should have been more understanding. I was an asshole, and I'm not excusing it."

  She deflated. "I'm sorry I attacked you. I just--"

  I risked a step closer. "Joss, I know I have no idea what you've been through. I'm aware of that okay? But I'm also not stupid. You don't have to tell me anything if you don't want to, but just know that I understand where your reaction came from."

  "You understand." This was a flat, disbelieving statement.

  "As much as I can, yes. Like I said, I don't expect you to tell me about it--"

  She moved past me and sat on my bed. "Sit down and listen."

  "Joss, you don't--"

  "Just listen and don't interrupt. I've never told anyone this before." She sat in silence, just breathing, gathering her thoughts. "It was about six months after my parents died. I'd made it as far as Toronto. I had this idea I would stay there. Like, get a part-time job and sleep on the streets until I could afford a place. Something like that. It started out fine. I found a job at a hole-in-the-wall Chinese place, washing dishes for cash under the table. Shitty work and long hours and shitty pay, but it was something. I found a shelter nearby where I could sleep at night and take showers. For a few weeks, it was fine. I thought--I thought I had that shit figured out, you know? But then...I met a guy at the shelter. He volunteered there. Nice guy. Young, only a little older than me. Seriously cute, like he was...he was hot, and I was just this naive teenage girl. He seemed interested in me. We started hanging out. He'd meet me outside the Chinese food place after I got off work and we'd walk around and talk. He would buy me food. I was wary, because you know...guys, right? But he was just...nice."

  She hesitated again. "So I...we got closer. He'd sit on the same side of the booth as me when we sat down to eat. He'd put his arm around me. I'd hold his hand as we walked. Innocent enough stuff, right? This went on for weeks. I was close to having enough money for a deposit on a shared place with some students. The room was tiny, but the place was central and the girls seemed honest. I hadn't thought about my visa or passport or anything, I just...I figured if I had the cash it would work out since the girls were from all over Canada and the U.S., and no one gave a second thought to me being a 'foreigner'. I was seventeen, almost eighteen, and I was naive."

  She hesitated again, toying with the end of a dreadlock. She was quiet for a few moments, and then she continued, haltingly.

  "His name was Rob--the guy from the shelter was Rob. One day we were walking around after having eaten, and we came to a big park--Trinity Bellwoods, I think it was. He said he wanted to walk through it, so we did. It was late, like two or three in the morning, because I worked at night and didn't get off until after midnight. I knew enough to know that wasn't a good idea for me to wander around places like this by myself at night, so I usually stayed away unless it was daytime. Anyway, I figured Rob was with me so it should be safe enough, right?"

  She laughed bitterly. "He took us off the path, into this little grove of trees where there were some big rocks and stuff. Isolated. Silent. I knew, immediately, that I'd made a mistake, but it was too late. He--he looked around, checking for people, and then he just...changed. Like he'd taken off a mask or something. The nice guy just vanished, and he...he grabbed me. Threw me to the ground. Sat on top of me. Put his hand around my throat, choking me. He kissed me, but it was...rough, I don't know how to put it. Not really a kiss, more just him mashing his lips on mine. I couldn't fight him. He was too strong, too heavy, and I couldn't breathe. I was trying, but I couldn't get any leverage to hit him or knee him."

  "Shit," I breathed.

  "He got his belt open--I still remember the jingle, that sound. He had me pinned to the ground, choking me just enough to subdue me but not enough to make me pass out or anything. He had done this before--I remember thinking that as clear as day, he's done this before. He had his thing out, and was pawing at my clothes. I had a lot of layers on, you know? I tended to wear pretty much everything I owned because it was late spring and it got cold at night. So he was trying to get through the layers."

  She paused, swallowing hard, a dread wrapped around a finger, tugging on it in agitation. "He...he got me to where he could, you know--rape me. In the moments before he did, though, he paused. He looked down at me, right in the eyes." Her voice dropped an octave and went rough, mimicking a male's voice. "'You want this, don't you? You know you want it, you little slut.' I felt him--I felt--he had me pinned, and he was breathing on me, and his belt buckle was jingling, draping on my leg. The metal was cold, I remember that. He stank. He was so heavy. And his thing--he was trying to get at me. But he hadn't pulled my layers of pants down far enough."

  She laughed again, a bitter huff of breath.

  "Those layers saved me. He let go of my throat a little, focusing on trying to get my clothes off enough that he could get to me. He moved off me, and that allowed me enough leverage that I could get my knee between us. Once I had my knee up, I was able to kick at him. I hit him, kicked him, bit him. I fought like a fucking tiger." She glanced down at her hands, clenched into fists, and forced them open, shaking them out. "I, um, I found a rock in the grass, and I hit him with it. A lot of times. He fell over and I got up, got my pants back up, and I ran. I have no idea what happened to him. If he--if I'd hit him enough with the rock to--to, you know, kill him, or just hurt him
. I ran and I didn't stop until I couldn't run anymore, and then I walked." She shook her head. "I vowed then that I'd never stop again for more than a few days, and I'd never trust another person again. Certainly not a guy."

  She sighed. "I, um. I was a mess, obviously. This woman, Val. She, um--she was walking by, talking on a cell phone. She saw me, and she just--she ended her call without even saying goodbye, and--and asked if she could take me somewhere safe I could get cleaned up. I was in shock, I think, because I just went with her. She took me to a place called Covenant House. It, um--they let me stay there." Joss stared at her feet. "Covenant House literally saved my life. After Rob, I think I would have...I don't know. Offered counseling to help me past what happened, food, safety." She blinked hard. "They had this little library. It was a couple shelves in a corner, with a folding table and chair in front of them. I was put in charge of checking books out and in and shelving them. That...it gave me something to...to do."

  "How long did you stay there?" I asked.

  "A little over a year. I knew I couldn't stay forever. I didn't want to leave, but...otherwise I'd just be trapped there forever. I remembered Dad telling me while he made pancakes one Sunday morning that he'd always wanted to go to Alaska. So when I left, my goal was to come here...for Dad."

  My room was filled with another silence I didn't dare break.

  "Joss, I--" I really didn't have any idea what to say, though.

  "I trusted Rob," she cut in. "When I first got to Toronto, I thought I had a chance at figuring out a normal life. Get a job, get a place, maybe even a boyfriend. I was naive and stupid, and it almost got me raped. So yeah, I don't trust anyone." She finally glanced at me. "Least of all a man."

  I sighed. "And when I put my weight on you, it triggered you."

  She nodded, looking down at her feet. "Yeah. But you didn't deserve that. I just--I was triggered, and I couldn't help it."

  "I get it."

  She twisted on the bed, looking me. "Lucian, I--I need you know something." She reached out and took my hands in hers. "Before that, before I freaked out--I wanted what we were doing. You had no way of knowing what would happen, that I'd react that way. I enjoyed what we were doing, Lucian. I promise you I did."

  I swallowed hard, grabbing the ice bag, removing my hands from hers. "I thought I'd misread things or something. I mean, I know I didn't get actual verbal consent every step of the way, but when someone initiates contact, that's pretty clear consent, right?"

  She shifted closer to me. "Lucian, god--please don't think that. I wanted it. I really did."

  "Did." I sighed. "You did want it."

  She groaned. "Lucian, don't."

  "It's fine." I felt myself shutting down, closing off.

  She flipped her dreads backward and flopped onto the mattress with a groan. "Lucian, I'm just not there."

  "I get it."

  She sat up. "Please don't be mad at me. I'm sorry I'm so--back and forth with you, I just--it's hard, okay? I don't know how to do this, how to trust you, how to be the kind of person that just..." she trailed off with a huff. "I'm just not there, okay? I tried, and I couldn't do it. I like you. I'm attracted to you. But I can't do this with you. I'm sorry."

  I nodded, and tried to act nonchalant, like there wasn't a cold hard pit at the bottom of my stomach. "It's cool. Whatever." I lay back on the bed and set the ice pack against my nose once more, closing my eyes.

  "Don't 'whatever' me, Lucian. I'm trying to be honest with you here. I told you what happened--and that's a big deal for me. I don't talk about myself with anyone, ever. I don't trust people. I don't stay in one place. This isn't me. I've been trying, but I can't do it."

  "Okay."

  She fell silent, and I expected to feel the bed lift as she stood up, but it never happened.

  "Okay?" Her voice was tiny, soft. "That's it?"

  "Well...what is it you want of me, here?" I remained on my back, ice pack on my nose, eyes closed, even though my instinct was to turn to her, to comfort her, to tell her how much I wanted her, how not okay all this was. "You said you couldn't do this--whatever this is. And I'm saying okay. Fine."

  Another long silence. "Whatever this is."

  "Yeah. Whatever this is, because I sure as fuck don't know."

  "Neither do I! What do you want from me? How am I supposed to know how to navigate this shit? I'm fucked up, Lucian! My life is fucked up." She went from loud to quiet in an instant. "What do you want from me?" This was more of an echo, a repetition out of exasperation.

  "Nothing. I don't want anything from you." That was a damn dirty lie--I wanted everything from her.

  I wanted to kiss her and never stop. I wanted to feel her beneath me, feel her legs wrapped around me. I wanted to go sleep with her and wake up next to her. I wanted all this so bad it fucking hurt, so bad it scared me stupid. But she couldn't do this. She just wasn't there. Which meant there was no fucking way in hell I could even let myself think any of that, much less say it to her.

  Problem: I had already thought these things to myself, but it was too late to put the genie back in the bottle. Now I just had to live with it, and live with knowing it wasn't going to happen.

  I felt Joss beside me--her physical presence, yes, but also her energy.

  "You don't want anything from me."

  "Nope."

  "Bullshit!" she shouted. "Fucking bullshit!"

  I sat up and threw the ice pack across the room so it smacked against the door and hit the floor. "You want to know what I want? I want you to quit fucking with my head!"

  She reared back as if I'd hit her across the face. "Fucking with your head? The fuck is that supposed to mean?"

  "It means you're a goddamn tease! You said it yourself--you're back and forth every two seconds! One minute you're all no, go away, leave me alone, don't touch me, and the next moment you're all over me, kissing me like you've never been kissed in your fucking life, like you can't get enough. And then you run off on me, all upset about who the fuck knows what!" I gestured angrily at the door. "And this is all before you broke my goddamn nose! What do I want? How about you figure out what the fuck you want! Do you want me, or do you not want me? You let me kiss you, and then you bolt. You let me give you an orgasm, and then you break my nose. And yeah, I understand the trauma of what you just told me about, but that doesn't totally explain how hot and cold you are with me."

  I saw the anger in her, but I ignored it and kept going, letting out the fears and doubts I'd been harboring, that had been percolating inside me for months.

  "This thing with you, to be honest, it's the last fucking thing I needed. You've thrown my entire life into chaos, you know that? And I mean everything. You make me doubt myself. You make me doubt what I'm doing in life, where I'm going, and why. Like, why am I here? I mean in Ketchikan, not in some metaphysical sort of way, but shit--yeah, that way too. Like, all my brothers have...a thing. A purpose, a talent, or a career path set out in front of them. Every single one of them, except me. And I was fine with that until you showed up."

  "How in the hell does any of that have anything to do with me?" she demanded.

  "Because you and I are a lot alike. We both have trust issues, we both have done a lot of traveling--for different reasons, but still. But you--you're different. You have..." I hesitated over admitting this to her, to anyone, to myself. "Even you have something. You have that cafe bookstore you want to open. And I...don't have any aspirations like that. Nothing. And I didn't realize that until I met you."

  "Oh, poor you, poor Lucian. You don't have a purpose? You can't find your talent? Boo fucking hoo. Try losing both parents at the same time! Try being totally fucking alone in the world! Try being homeless in a foreign country, a girl, and a teenager! You have seven brothers who love you and take care of you! Not to mention Dru, Mara, Claire, Eva, Tate, and Aerie! You have a home, a family, a place to fucking be, a place that's yours!" She stood up and backed away, facing me, in a full rage, now. "And how fucking dare you call
me a tease! I'm not teasing you! I've never teased you!"

  "Sure as fuck feels like it!" I snapped back. "You get me all worked up and let me think you're into it and you want it and then all of a sudden you're freaking out, running off on me, panicking, acting like--like--I don't fucking know! Like you're scared of me, or something! And all I can think is, what the fuck is wrong with me? What did I do? What am I doing wrong? I'm fine waiting, I'm fine going slow. But then we start kissing and you get into it and make me think you want to take things farther, so I do, and I try to be careful and make sure you're with me every step of the way, but then you freak out all over again! What the fuck else am I supposed to think? Either you're scared of me, or I'm missing something."

  She turned away from me, shoulders tensed as if expecting a blow, hands fisted at her sides, breathing hard as if restraining herself from physically attacking me again.

  A beat passed in silence; the only sound was her ragged breathing.

  Then, she whirls on me, eyes blazing. "It's not about you! It's about me!" She stomps closer, leaning forward. "I'm scared of you because you make me feel things I can't afford to feel! You make me want things I can't afford to want!"

  "What is it you can't afford to feel or want? Explain that much at least."

  "YOU! This! Us!" She gestures with both hands at me, at the door behind us. "EVERYTHING! I can't afford to want you; I can't afford to want to stay here. I can't--I don't belong here! I want all this and I can't have any of it!"

  "Why not?"

  "Because--fuck, you wouldn't understand."

  I stood up, now. Angry, frustrated. "Why not? And why not at least try me?"

  "I can't."

  "Why not?"

  "I just can't!"

  "You're just scared."

  "Yes! I am! I already said I was, goddamn it!" She steps toward me, stomping a foot and glaring up at me.

  "What are you so scared of?"

  "We're going in circles, Lucian."

  I groaned, spun away, ripping my hair out of the ponytail and running my hands through it, and then whirled back to face her. "Because you're not actually answering me. It's obvious you're scared of me, of how I make you feel, but I don't know why. You're scared of things getting physical--that much is obvious, but I don't know why. You're scared of letting yourself belong here, but again, I don't know why! And you won't explain any of it." I sighed, the anger going out of me. "You're going to leave, right? So just go. Quit playing games with me, and just do what you do--run."

 
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